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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Decisions, decisions

If you watched the footage from the Dr. Oz show in the previous post there is a theme you will notice. It is a theme I notice in my life when I tell people about Anneke's journey, blockers and the many other choices we make on behalf of our kids. "Are you sure you are doing the right thing?" or "Don't you think giving your child a drug to stop puberty is extreme?"

There are two things I know for sure.
1. As a parent, you never know with certainty you are making the right choice for your child. You have to trust your instincts and listen to your child.

2. Doing nothing, when it comes to big decisions like blockers and surgery is making a decision for your child.

Since the age of 6 Anneke had suffered from migraines and extreme stomach pains. S/he has had head CT's, ultrasounds, X-rays and countless days of missed school. When signs of female development began, all of these things got worse and a deepening depression ensued.

The universe takes care of us, I beleive. When I confided in my student at the time she had told me she had just recently attended a trans-health conference and heard a talk by Dr. Metzger, a pediatric endocrinologist who helped gender-variant kids stop puberty. When I told Anneke about this s/he jumped at the chance without hesitation. Dr. Metzger has been a gift to us. Since starting blockers Anneke has not had any more migraines, stomach pains or missed school.

I hesitated to get in touch with him at first. When I reached out to medical professionals, when Anneke was about 4 or 5 we met Dr. Zucker. He is a world renowned specialist in 'Gender Identity Disorder', especially with respect to children and adolescence. When he realized Anneke indeed fit the diagnostic criteria for GID, he wanted to enrol her in a study

The following is a summary I found on line
Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and head of the gender-identity service at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, disagrees with the “free to be” approach with young children and cross-dressing in public. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Zucker has treated about 500 preadolescent gender-variant children. In his studies, 80 percent grow out of the behavior, but 15 percent to 20 percent continue to be distressed about their gender and may ultimately change their sex.
Dr. Zucker tries to “help these kids be more content in their biological gender” until they are older and can determine their sexual identity — accomplished, he said, by encouraging same-sex friendships and activities like board games that move beyond
Zucker thinks that an important goal of treatment is to help the children accept their birth sex and to avoid becoming transsexual. His experience has convinced him that if a boy with GID becomes an adolescent with GID, the chances that he will become an adult with GID and seek a sex change are much higher. And he thinks that the kind of therapy he practices helps reduce this risk. Zucker emphasizes a three-pronged treatment approach for boys with GID. First, he thinks that family dynamics play a large role in childhood GID—not necessarily in the origins of cross-gendered behavior, but in their persistence. It is the disordered and chaotic family, according to Zucker, that can’t get its act together to present a consistent and sensible reaction to the child, which would be something like the following: “We love you, but you are a boy, not a girl. Wishing to be a girl will only make you unhappy in the long run, and pretending to be a girl will only make your life around others harder.” So the first prong of Zucker’s approach is family therapy. Whatever conflicts or issues that parents have that prevent them from uniting to help their child must be addressed.

Once we realized this was Dr. Zuckers' approach we ran for the hills. He basically wanted to enrol Anneke (and our whole family) in behavioural modifcation therapy. When I confided in my friend Christine that I didn't know what to do about Anneke's kindergarden depression, and the interaction with Dr. Zucker, she asked simply "What do you want to do?"
"I want to take her out of this school that she hates, and surround her with people that love and support her, no matter what - not people that want to change her."
"Then that is what we will do." she said with a certainty that I yearned for. As we walked up to the school Anneke attended at the time.
I took Anneke out of that school that week. I begged the YMCA where s/he went to preschool to accept her in their kindergarden program, which they did. And I never returned Dr. Zucker's phone calls. As you can imagine, these were obviously big decisions. I had no idea if they were the right ones.

I now know they were some of the best decisions I have ever made.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dr. Oz

I am normally quite wary of talk-shows and their sensationalist approach to these subjects. I was pleasantly suprised watching this. Check out Josie's face when the psychologist refers to her as a little girl - how wonderful!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Parenting a Transgender Child: Tips for Parents of Children With Gender Dysphoria

Parenting a Transgender Child: Tips for Parents of Children With Gender Dysphoria

So, in case you need any translation or summary;

1. Don't try to change your child.
2. Love and embrace your childs' gender identity and expression.
3. Protect your child those who will not do 1 and 2
4. If you can do 1 through 3 you are a great parent.

Bumper stickers and God

I saw a bumper sticker this week and laughed aloud in my car.

"Sorry I haven't been to church lately, but I've been too busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian." Ok, sorry if you are offended, but I find it hilarious. I am accused of being a witch and a lesbian on a daily basis, and consider it to be a point of pride.

With regard to being a witch, midwives have often been accused of being witches - and burned at the stake as a result - we knew about herbs, nature and women's bodies. While I don't claim to know much about the Wicca ways, I know about herbs, birth and women's bodies. Most days I know which phase of the moon we are in. I do not find being 'accused' of being a witch a terrible thing.

So, when Molly asked one day. "Why don't we go to church?" Ben and I looked at each other and struggled for an answer. Anneke jumped in and said, "I don't think we'd fit in in church. I went to church once with Opa, and it was really boring."

Phew - off the hook - or so I thought.

"But if we don't go to church, God won't like us and we won't go to heaven."
Anneke "I don't think God would like us anyway. Mom and dad aren't married and I am ... well ... trans."

Molly "But God loves us all."

I don't know what I was shocked about about more. My youngest daughters' apparent religious furvor, or my oldest referring to her/himself as trans. No question the religiousness. This all led to a rather awkward conversation about religion and why we aren't huge fans of organized religion, but have no particular problem with God. Molly seemed to process this in her 8 year old brain.

Anneke jumped in, by saying "I heard that God and religious people don't like gay people." Ok, I think this is why we don't have family dinners - this is a challenging conversation.
"I'm not sure I believe in God, sweetie, but if I did it would be God that loved everyone, no matter who they loved, or who they were.'
Ben "I think God is a lesbian anyway." Nobody but me sees the humour in this.

Suddenly I feel like watching Monty Pythons' the Life of Brian...and becoming a lesbian.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Parents of younger gender variant children often ask me about many issues related to raising a gender non-conforming child. I have no greater wisdom than any other parent, but I do offer wisdom learned from the trial and error parenting we have stumbled through over the past 13 years.

One of the best decisions we ever made was to get Anneke a puppy for her 9th birthday. Her name is Zoe. She is a labradoodle - an yes that is an actual breed of dog. Animals don't care what you wear, or how you express you gender. They love...unconditionally. When Anneke got Zoe s/he needed that love more than ever. As you can see from this picture, her dog makes her happy even on the darkest loneliest days.

Matt and Dr. Metzger

Every 6 months or so we see our hero, Dr. Metzger - Anneke's pediatric endocrinologist at BC Children's Hospital. At every visit he asks Anneke which pronoun s/he would like to be referred to as and which name s/he is going by these days. To date, is has been 'she' and Anneke. Recently, however, while A. was searching for Cannucks tickets on Craigslist, s/he was using the male name s/he likes - Matt. When Ben came home from work, s/he told him "Someone might phone for Matt, that's me." Without skipping a beat, he said, I know. Good answer. We now use the name Matt occasionally when we are out. Molly is routinely referring to A. as her brother in public spaces. A. insists it is simply to save others from the confusion and embarassement of mixing up and/or figuring out her gender. I'm not sure its as simple as that.

Every time we see Dr. Metzger s/he also goes for blood tests to ensure her hormone levels are stable ie: the blockers are working. When I asked if there is anything special s/he wanted to talk to Dr. M about this time, s/he said without hesitation - I want to ask him about 'T' - this is trans-speak for testosterone.
"Does that mean you want to talk to him about transtioning to male?" I asked.
"No, I want to still be a girl, I just want to start 'T'.
Anneke dreams of having muscles, height and a deeper voice. S/he is (for the moment) quite content to have these things and still be considered female.
I have learned that even many in the trans community don't quite understand this. Different thoughts flood through my head - what about gym class in high school, what about your reproductive organs? What about how male you will look?
The thing that strikes me however is how comfortable and confident A. is with this idea. This is truly the expression of her gender-fluidity. "Why do I have to decide?" s/he often says. "Why can't I just be the person I want to be?"

Why indeed.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Anneke and Opa

Five facts about Opa (my dad)

1. He is one of the most patient men I have ever met in my life.
2. He plays golf, this picture was taken after he and A. played a round of golf.
3. He has funded A's hockey career from the beginning and is one of her biggest fans.
4. He is a Habs fan - a true French Canadian.
5. He loves A. unconditionally. I learned to be a great parent from him.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Date night

So Anneke asked me the other day how old s/he had to be to go on a date. "Twenty", I say without skipping a beat. “Seriously mom,” s/he responds clearly not pleased with my answer. “Well,” I think, scrambling for a response, “I think it depends a bit on whether you date girls or boys.”
“Um, well, teenage boys are different that teenage girls.”
Anneke laughs, “All the boys in my class are retarded.”
“Those are not the exact words I would use but, yes I think you should wait a few more years to start dating.”
This is one of those parenting moments where I must seem like I know what I am talking about, but actually don’t have a clue. I am wracking my brain to remember if I was even attracted to people at age 13. Yes, I suppose, but generally too terrified to talk to anyone I was remotely attracted to. I seem to recall more feeling towards pop icons than boys my age.

It is truly a wonder I have actually mated and had children.

“Do you think you have the courage ask someone out?” I ask secretly hoping this ends the whole is discussion.
“Yeah, sure, why not?”
Ok, so s/he is attracted to people and confident about asking them out. Definitely unfamiliar territory for me. “Maybe you should talk to your dad he has a lot more dating experience than I do.”
“No, dad is too old.”
“Just because he is older doesn’t mean he doesn’t know anything.”
A dismissive shrug says it all. A. is going through a phase (at least I hope it is a phase) where s/he doesn’t think much of her dad.

I decide to opt for honesty. “I can’t really give you advice, sweetie, I didn’t really date much until I got to university. I went to see Star Wars with a boy who asked me when I was nine but I don’t think that counts. I don’t know if there is a right age.”

A., a bit frustrated with this decides to cut to the chase.
“Well if I ask (insert name here) to the Canucks game will you drive us?”
“Sure.” I respond
“Can I have money?” s/he sheepishly asks.
“Yeah, how much?”
“Enough to buy us both food. The man usually pays.”
I bite my tongue. The feminist in me is cringing, but the mom of my baby butch is tickled.
“Yes I will drive you and give you money.”
So tonight as I type this my 13 year old is at GM place, wearing too much cologne, buying dinner for her date. I am not sure if her companion is aware they are on a date, but it hardly matters.
To top it off, Vancouver beat Ottawa soundly at tonights game.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pity party

I have a pity party for myself about once every 3 months or so. It usually doesn’t last long, and is often precipitated by a major event. In this case it was an unbelievable amount of work, with little sleep, food, or family contact; followed by the onset of the flu. It is in these moment where I like to feel sorry for myself. Needless to say, I have a good life. I have wonderful kids, a warm and secure home, a job I love and a partner who loves me.

One thing I realized, however, is that I spend a lot of time and energy caring for others. My partner, my kids, my clients, even my dog. Today at the drug store Anneke and I were filling a prescription for her strep throat. While shopping s/he was trying to encourage me to buy things for me. “You never treat yourself.” s/he pointed out. Today I treated myself to the mega bottle of Advil cold and sinus – my drug of choice. Yesterday I was feeling sorry for myself, because I felt there was no one around to take care of me. Today I realized I was wrong – I have raised one of the most nurturing kids on the planet.

As we were waiting for the prescription to be filled I was looking for make-up that might make me look more human and less sick. Anneke picked up a nail polish she thought her sister would like. As she did this the sales associate came by, “Hello ladies, can I help you find anything?” We both froze. It was probably the first time in years that anyone assumed Anneke was female. I also don’t find myself in the make-up department too often so I felt oddly uncomfortable. “No thanks.” We said, then giggled like school-girls when she left.
In that fun moment my pity party ended.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bad news

So last Wednesday after a long day, I picked up messages to learn that Anneke had not been accepted to the Hockey Academy High School s/he had applied to. My heart sank. She had all the pieces: a good report card, a glowing letter from her coach, a long career of dedicated hockey didn't make sense. I knew s/he would be disappointed, possibly crushed at this news.

By the time I picked up the message s/he was in bed. The next day, was to be our Olympic day together, going to the Women's Bronze medal game of the Olympic Games...a day to inspire hockey dreams, not crush them. I couldn't bear to tell her that day. Friday I worked late and s/he babysat until midnight. The reality is, there is no good time. I finally told her Saturday, while we were out alone together in the car.

She was desperately disappointed, but tried not to show it. As much as I have tried to encourage her to express her feelings, s/he is stoic and stubborn to a fault...too much like her mother, I'm afraid. I tried to talk up the virtues of the other High School s/he is interested in. They have a hockey team, they have an out lesbian as president of their student council, and by far, she would have better academic success. We agreed that the Hockey Academy was losing out not accepting her, and that the other high school was the best choice. Phew.

Before bed however, a quiet scared voice cuddled in bed with me and said
"I don't really want to go to High School mom. I'm really nervous about it."
I wanted to crumble next to her and cry, "Me too, I'm terrified. I am scared of the suicide rate amongst trans-gendered youth, I'm scared of bullies. I'm scared you won't find love or acceptance! I am scared you will be hurt." Of course, I couldn't say all that.

"It's going to be great. You're going to make great new friends and play on their hockey team. If you don't like it, we will find a school you like." Her body relaxed hearing that.
"You're a great mom, you know that mom?" s/he said.
"I try."
"You succeed." s/he said.

The reality is - I am terrified.